Much like exercise and diet, reading and writing are in a symbiotic relationship and one cannot grow without the other. One can follow the strictest meal plan, but if exercise is neglected, he or she will struggle to be a healthy and well-rounded person. Likewise, if the same person works out all the time but never eats well, it will be a struggle to stay trim and healthy. A relationship with words will act in kind because one can read all the time and study the best writers, but if one never writes to put what was learned it into practice, that person will not strengthen his or her composition ability. If, however, said person only writes and never reads, the writing abilities will stagnate. It is the marriage between the two concepts that creates the best opportunity for growth, and the L2 learner is no exception to this rule. John S. Hedgcock and Dana R. Ferris, professors and academic leaders in the field of second language reading and writing, strongly advise in Teaching L2 Composition that there must be a “central role of reading processes in the teaching and learning of L2 writing.” (93). Successful integration of the two is critical because they each directly impact growth in the other discipline and can easily form a cohesive curriculum for instructing both L1 and L2 students.
One of the primary reasons reading and writing are crucial to an L2 learner’s development is that they simultaneously impact growth. The average L1 composition education in an equal balance of both and this leads consistently through the course of one’s college education. For example, an instructor might try pairing students’ writing projects with the readings of successful authors in similar genres to the writing assignments. By reading great writers while they write, students are subconsciously strengthening their craft. A professor and Academic Program Specialist at Ohio State University, Alan Hirvela mentions in Connecting Reading and Writing in Second Language Writing Instruction that this connection is exceptionally useful for L2 students because “meaning is created by the active negotiation between writer, text, and reader.” (35). Reading, especially for writers, should be active, like how a mathematician would study a math formula to learn, not just to appreciate the equation. Although some instructors may be fearful of possessing enough time to equally integrate reading and writing into the classroom—especially while being highly sensitive to L2 acquisition needs—one can find balance if one was to “take better advantage of the inherent connections between reading and writing, using every reading experience as an opportunity to teach and reinforce core writing concepts, as opposed to isolating writing as a separate subject.” (Taking Advantage of the Reading/Writing Connection). Much of this balance can be found through annotations, analysis, and other deconstructive methods of texts. After assessing texts and making the reading process active, students can then apply what they have learned directly to their own projects.
The opposition to this instructional method may argue that tasks like annotating and student textual reflections can diminish the author’s original intentions or overall importance, but that is rarely the case with reader-response theory. Hirvela states that “although some reader-response theorists embrace the notion of the ‘death of the author’ and feel that all meaning resides in the reader, many take a middle ground approach.” (50). It is important to convey this concept when teaching to ensure classroom time is being used optimally. One does not want the students to feel like they cannot draw their own conclusions or have their own interpretations, but it is also necessary for them to have some respect for the text and learn to truly understand what the author was most likely trying to convey. This fence-like balance is crucial to proper reading interpretation and it also directly plays into making students better writers. For L2 students specifically, this active emphasis on reading and interpretation is exceedingly beneficial to composition development because it helps them understand things from the reader’s perspective as a writer. They can see how some things work, how others do not, and, ultimately, how to clearly convey their ideas. According to Hirvela, “adopting a reader-oriented approach enables a teacher to show students critical relationships between reading and writing through a focus on students’ composing processes.” (53).
Specific examples of the reader-oriented approach include summarizing and synthesizing. Summarizing allows students to reiterate what they have just read and translate it into a diction that is their own. Some benefits to this include opportunities to better understand the students’ reading comprehension as well as teaching them to read analytically with the goal of simplifying what they have read. Synthesizing also involves writing about what one is reading, but it is a discussion of at least two or more sources that are often compared. This method requires the summary of all materials combined with critical thinking to derive the meaning from them all. Both approaches have great value, and it is ideal for younger students or new L2 learners to start with summarizing and gradually work their way up to synthesizing multiple texts. One reason for this build-up process is the anticipation that these students may get overwhelmed. If students are given a text that is several pages long, it could be a frightening undertaking for an L2 learner to try to condense the entire text into a paragraph or two; that in and of itself intimidates a lot of L1 learners. Starting out with small texts for analysis is a great solution because once the students are comfortable with the process, an instructor can gradually move them up to larger and more advanced texts. If a student is still struggling, he or she can be encouraged to break up each main idea into a mini summary and go back and use those notes to draft a summary of the entire text. Over time, students would ideally learn how to set aside the non-essential pieces of any text into order to write a summary.
According to Dr. Lois Bridges, a former educator and literacy publisher, “every time we enter a text as a reader, we receive a writing lesson: how to spell, punctuate, use proper grammar, structure a sentence or paragraph, and organize a text.” This type of thinking echoes the nondirectional model of reading-writing instruction. It is appealing to many instructors because of the emphasis on the transfer of skill being able to work in both directions: reading directly affecting writing and visa versa (Hirvela 72). Even with all these interconnections, one should keep in mind that sometimes reading is just reading and writing is just writing. Students need to understand that they must be actively aware of the relationship between both practices and that they need to read as a writer and write as a reader. That is what will grow both skills simultaneously and make them stronger at both. An example of the conscientiousness in action could include the following steps in the classroom: students read a book in the style of the semester-long writing project; students discuss said book with classmates; students read a book on how to write the style of the semester-long project; students actively flesh out the semester-long project in peer groups by utilizing writing prompts. This is only one of many possible translations because “reading and writing both involve building meaning, developing cognitive and linguistic skills, controlling thinking, solving problems, and activating schemata.” (Ferris and Hedgcock 96).
Reading and writing are in an interdependent relationship. Not only does a student not strengthen one skill without the other, an instructor can also not successfully teach one without a proper balance of the other. Most activities should center around both reading and writing whenever possible, and in equal doses. Only by understanding the role of each discipline can L2 students successfully come to terms with the intricacies of a new language. This basic principal of approaching texts “not only increases deep comprehension but informs genre specific, effective, purpose-driven writing” for students who may initially struggle with either reading or writing an L2 language (Taking Advantage of the Reading/Writing Connection). The skills students will acquire, whether consciously or unconsciously, by studying such methods will help them devise tactics to build their reading and writing skills upon. The instructor must ensure the foundations of reading and writing are well-established with all students and that those areas are always being reciprocally encouraged.
Bridges, Lois. “What the Research Says: Reading and Writing Connections.” Scholastic.edu.
Scholastic, 2 July 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2017.
Ferris, Dana, and John Hedgcock. Teaching L2 Composition: Purpose, Process, and Practice.
Third ed. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014. Print.
Hirvela, Alan. Connecting Reading and Writing in Second Language Writing Instruction. Ann
Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 2004. Print.
“Taking Advantage of the Reading/Writing Connection.” Empowering Writers. Empowering
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